Phillies Definitely Need Changes To Save Season

With the Phillies sliding further behind Atlanta and seemingly mired in a never-ending funk, there is great debate about exactly when you hit the panic button and exactly what that button unleashes. Does it unleash trades? Demotions to AAA? Or, as some have suggested on the <a href=>Renegade Phans Message Board</a>, firing the manager. How can the Phillies be fixed?

First of all, it's not time to hit the panic button. That doesn't mean that it's not time to start thinking about making some changes. The panic button suggests that it's time to do what you can to save the team, women and children first, S.O.S., all is lost, heads are gonna roll. We haven't reached that point. Yet.

Let's start with the obvious. Marlon Byrd isn't getting it done. How can it possibly be helping him to have spent just two days this season with his average above the .200 mark and that's with Larry Bowa picking and choosing the pitchers that Byrd faces? It's not helping him. Marlon isn't a lost cause and can still bounce all the way back, but for now, sending him to AAA is the way to go. Before he leaves, you give him the old ‘hang in there' talk and let him know that no matter what he does at Scranton, he'll be back in September – if not sooner – and will certainly have a shot at winning back his job next spring. He is not forgotten, he just needs more work.

With Marlon gone, we put Jason Michaels in the lineup every night. The kid has shown some talent, he's a feisty player who the fans could get to love and it says here that he'll hit better than the tandem of Byrd and Ricky Ledee. Why not give the job to Ledee or use Ledee and Michaels in a platoon? Ledee is one of the better bats off the bench. He has had shots to play every day and they haven't worked out. Michaels hasn't had that chance and deserves the chance.

Let's stick with the offense. No major changes, but we are going to tweak the batting order a little. For now, Jimmy Rollins stays in the leadoff spot, but with two new rules. First, he will work everyday on learning to bunt for a hit. Second, he will show his progress by laying down a bunt at least once per series. If Rollins perfected bunting, he would quickly push his OBP higher both by bunting for hits and by getting infielders pulled in so he can slap hits past them. Rollins needs to understand once and for all that leading off is about getting on base.

The three-four-five combo of Bobby Abreu, Pat Burrell and Jim Thome isn't working in whatever combination it's put, so let's brake it up. Bobby Abreu moves to second. He'll have some holes on the right side if Rollins is on and if J-Roll doesn't get on, Abreu is likely to get on. Tell Rollins and Abreu that they're in a contest to see who can swipe more bases and turn ‘em both loose.

Michaels isn't only going to get the center field job, he's going to hit third. Again, he's got the attitude to do it and has shown himself to be capable of hitting with runners on base. Don't forget that when Michaels and Burrell were together at the University of Miami, it was Michaels who was hitting fourth and driving in a lot of runs. Plus, we're going to put Thome fourth, so Michaels will have some nice protection hitting behind him in the order. After Thome will come Mike Lieberthal, almost by default. Burrell's stroke is lost somewhere in baseball hell and David Bell and Placido Polanco certainly aren't any protection for Thome. Speaking of Burrell, we're dropping him back to sixth, right behind David Bell. That's how bad Burrell looks right now. Polanco inherits the eighth spot in the order.

Now, to the pitchers. The rotation hasn't been spectacular, but they've been okay and we don't have a lot of other choices. The bullpen has shown their true colors of late and needs some work. Again, it's not time to panic, but we need to make changes. Jose Mesa keeps the closer's role, but when he goes into one of his funks, someone else steps in. The Phillies need to start thinking about life after Mesa anyway, since this is likely his last season in Philadelphia. Rheal Cormier and Turk Wendell have been the most reliable relievers, so they're the set-up men, but one of them can also be used to get you out of a jam earlier in the game, too. Dan Plesac stays, but ONLY to get lefties out and hopefully, not in tight situations. Hector Mercado and Carlos Silva are the guys that get us to Cormier and Wendell, but both come in to start innings unless absolutely necessary to bring them out of the ‘pen in the middle of an inning, otherwise, that's a job for Plesac, Wendell or Cormier. Terry Adams hasn't been great this season, especially with runners on base, so he gets the long relief role.

These are good enough changes for now and will hopefully light a fire under the club. Ed Wade still needs to be working the phones and looking for ways to make the team better. We might need a center fielder and certainly could use some proven, strong veterans for the bullpen.

Speaking of center fielders, there are a couple options. First, Pittsburgh might move Kenny Lofton. The Phillies probably should have been more interested in Lofton this spring when he could have been signed without giving any compensation. The Phillies – which was smart at the time – didn't want to rattle Byrd, so they stayed away from Lofton. Of course, Lofton has a 25 game hitting streak and his price is higher than it may be in a few weeks, so now wouldn't be the time to pursue him. However, a call to Pittsburgh just to let them know you're interested wouldn't be out of line.

The other option – and I hate to say it – is Rickey Henderson. I have never been a big fan of Henderson and his inflated ego, but he has shown me something. He is playing for the Newark Bears of the independent Atlantic League. Through 18 games, Henderson is hitting .345 with an obscene .475 on-base percentage. Granted, he's not hitting off the likes of Curt Schilling or Greg Maddux, but he's getting the job done. His agent recently pointed out that Henderson isn't in this for the money, since the apartment that he's renting in Newark costs more than what he makes playing ball. Henderson wants another shot at the majors and is repaying his dues to get there. That says something. Another plus of adding Henderson would be his influence on Jimmy Rollins. J-Roll is a huge fan of Henderson's and the master could teach the kid a few things first hand. Henderson has turned me around completely and the Phillies should at least give him a look. There just may be an upside to signing him that would make it well worth the chance that you may be taking. Again, it's likely that Henderson has at least enough left to hit more than the Byrd and Ledee tag team that we've got now. If nothing else, bringing up the subject of Henderson brings to mind a story told around the batting cage by a player who formerly played in Seattle. The story goes… Rickey Henderson was standing around the batting cage with his Seattle teammates one day and asked John Olerud why he wore a helmet when he was playing defense. Olerud told him he just felt more comfortable and always did it, to which Henderson replied. "I played with a guy on the Mets who did the same thing." That guy of course, was Olerud.

Now, just in case these things don't work, be sure that the panic button is near and is in fine working order. If the offense doesn't wake up, it might just be time to slap that sucker and start evacuating… women and children first!

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